Artist. She was one of Germany’s most important early 20th-century artists. People suffering became her trademark; she captured the inhumanity, cruelly of war, raw grief and heartache experienced by the working class in her timeless drawings, paintings, prints, and sculptures. After the loss of her youngest son in battle during World War I, she personally knew the grief that came with a death of a child; hence, she produced many works with reoccurring theme of images of mothers grieving for their dead children. Kathe Schmidt was born into a liberal middle-class family in Königsberg, East Prussia which is now Kaliningrad, Russia. She studied under many noted artists in Berlin and Munich devoting herself to graphic art. In 1891 she married Karl Kollwitz, a physician who opened a clinic in a working-class section of Berlin. There she gained firsthand insight into the miserable conditions of the urban poor. Within five years, she was the mother of two sons, Hans and Peter; started teaching at the Berlin School of Women Artists; and by 1910 began to create sculpture. She also produced her first important works, which were two separate series of prints: “Weavers’ Revolt” from 1894 to 1898 and “Peasants’ War” dated from1902 to 1908. For her 50th birthday, the galleries of Paul Cassirer provided an exhibition of one hundred and fifty of her drawings. Although she was hopeful with the Russian Revolution of 1917, she was quickly disillusioned with the Communist Party and the injustices that came with their changes. During the years of the Weimar Republic, she became the first woman to be elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Arts, where from 1928 to 1933 she was head of the Master Studio for Graphic Arts with a substantial income. From 1924 to 1932 she started, destroyed, and then finally finished on a granite monument for her son, which depicted her husband and herself as grieving parents. The monument, named “The Parents”, was later erected at Vladslo, a German military cemetery in Flanders. The Nazis’ rise to power in Germany in 1933 led to her forced resignation from the academy because of her pacifist and political activities. Her last great series of lithographs, “Death” dated 1934 to 1936. In 1936, the Nazis declared Kollwitz’s art “degenerate” and her artworks were removed from museums. In 1940 her husband died; she expresses her sorrow over her husband's death in the sculpture "Der Abschied" (Farewell). In 1942 her grandson Peter was killed in action at the Russian front during World War II. On November 23, 1943, the Kollwitz’s home and her studio were bombed destroying much of her life’s work. By the spring of 1945, she was depressed, heartbroken and dying; she wrote in her last letter, “War accompanies me to the end”. She died a few weeks before the end of the war in Europe. A museum dedicated to Kollwitz’s work opened in Cologne, Germany, in 1985, and a second museum opened in Berlin one year later. The “Diary and Letters of Kaethe Kollwitz” was published in 1988. Her younger brother Konrad Schmidt and his wife Anna share the Kollwitz grave marker.
Bio by: Linda Davis